This is one point of view, and I am thinking another. Forgiveness and compromise is not weakness, it is strength.
You know who has the right idea right about now? Arnold Schwarzenegger. He just released a video calling the “riots” at the Capitol “America’s Kristallnacht.”
There’s a dangerous current surging in America.No, not (just) the violent fascist coup during which paramilitaries beat a cop to death with a fire extinguisher inside the Capitol.
An even more dangerous one: the idea that the people who carried out this coup deserve mercy.
Let me assure you as a survivor and scholar of authoritarianism. There is only one way to deal with fascism, terrorism, authoritariaism, coups, what Americans call “sedition.”
America needs to break the back of this fascist movement, now, severely — or it will pay an even more severe price in years and decades to come. A price in violence, rage, blood, and unrest. The highest of prices. No, I’m not kidding — and though you might feel a chill, I think you know it, too. It’s us or them.
There must be no quarter given to forces like Trumpists. There never should’ve been in the first place, but I digress. Let me explain why, even though I’m sure you already know.
Trumpists have revealed themselves to be a neo-fascist movement. A serious and real one. Having been unable to achieve their goals through consensual, peaceful democratic means, what did they do — the very first time they lost? They engaged in violence. Not just any kind of violence — sporadic, minor-league, harmless. They stormed the nation’s Capitol and shed blood.
Now, this act carries a very significant meaning. It says something. It is not some kind of random eruption of bottled up rage and suffering, for which we should all have empathy and mercy. It was not the tantrum of a child, or the outburst of a spoiled toddler — these were grown adults. It wasn’t the meaningless violence of a lunatic — these people planned their attack carefully. It wasn’t the huff of a scorned lover — these people wanted to destroy, not just walk away disappointed. It wasn’t a fraternity prank, a form of hazing, a legitimate protest, a night at the comedy club.
This wasn’t a tantrum, a huff, an outburst. So what was it?
This was deliberate, organised mass violence, led by the head of state, with a deep and abiding political, social, and culturalpoint.
What were those points? Let’s take them one by one.
The political point began with “If you beat us at the ballot box, we will come for you with guns and rifles and bombs, right in the heart of your democracy.”But it didn’t end there. It said, also: “We will profane your democracy’s most sacred and historic symbols. Because we don’t believe in them. We don’t believe that everyone deserves to share in them. All the power in this society is either ours, or it will be no one’s.”
In other words, the political message of this violence was to teach the rest of the country a lesson. We are the powerful ones. It is you or us. Either society will be what we want it to be, or we will not allow there to be a society at all. This is just the first of many such acts to come. It’s us or you.
What does that mean, exactly? It means what fascism always does. The choice between fascism and civilisation always goes like this. It’s our violence or your peace, it’s our brutality or your decency, it’s our authoritarianism or your democracy, it’s our hate and domination or your consensual, modern society.
They are the ones who don’t want there to be a choice. They are the ones for whom there is no compromise.
Why is that? Because their worldview is binary. Think back to Nietzsche, the intellectual godfather of fascism. His worldview was binary, too. You were were either a master or a slave, were strong or weak, an ubermensch or an underman, an overman or an underman. There was no gray area — which is what democracy and humanity are all about, finding the shades and nuances and differences, and appreciating their subtlety and hue and beauty.
This binary worldview is what fascists since that day have carried forward. Whether they know it or not is another question, but it’s there in Trumpism, and it’s easy to see. Either you’re a “real” American or you’re not, either you’re “legal” or you’re not, either you’re fetishistically devoted to Papa Trump, or you’re an “enemy of the people.” They either adore or hate. They have no capacity — none — to think, reason, contemplate, reflect. To say, “though you are different from me, I appreciate you all the more for just that reason.”
That is what makes a fascist.
Or one of the key things at any rate. The political message of all this violence is therefore to say: It is our way, or no way. It is us, or you. If you’re not one of us, you’re not really a human being at all — you are on the side of the subhumans, a “race traitor” or worse. Fascists want a society cleaved in two — a fanatical, hateful place, made of the weak and strong, the human and the subhuman, the pure and the impure, and everything in politics, institutions, agencies, associations, are to be devoted to that end.
That is why you cannot compromise or even negotiate with fascists. They have no room for compromise and negotiation. They want a totalitarian society — no compromise is possible. They will use violence to get it — no compromise is possible. So what is there to bargain over?
Precisely nothing. Sure, they might play a good game of lying about all the above — but that’s all they’re really doing, making a fool of you long the way.
You cannot negotiate or compromise with fascists because by definition such a thing isn’t possible. And if you try, the fool ends up being you.
What happens if we do try to compromise with fascists? That brings me to the social and cultural points of all this violence. Remember, fascists cannot compromise, inherently, as a limitation of their totalitarian, bipolarized worldview. It’s them or you.
So if you compromise with them, there’s only one result. They think you’re weak. Gullible. Foolish. Knowing that you won’t punish them, what do they do? They escalate.
That’s history’s pattern. How did the Nazis end up taking control of Germany? Well, nobody punished them when they were beating people in the streets, hating Jews, or putsching Beer Halls. The idea was to try and compromise with them. Later, much of Europe, notably France, would make that same mistake, all over again. And that mistake has been made by society after society. How did the Muslim World fall? It tried to compromise with its own fascists. The story is always the same.
Compromising with fascists therefore corrodes the social norms of a healthy, civilised democracy. Instead of confronting fascism head-on, it creates norms of submissions, denial, and complicity. Little acts of complicity become OK — they are just what we have do to “heal,” or get by, or forget.
Meanwhile, the fascists are forever escalating, laughing at the weakness of such people. Where have we seen this pattern? In America from 2016 to 2020.
Remember how Trump was treated with laughter from intellectuals and many politicians? How pundits and columnists refused to take the idea he was about to lead a fascist collapse seriously? I do, because they attacked me viciously for warning of it, but don’t cry for me: I raise that as an example. America itself is a case study in how attempting to compromise with fascists corrodes healthy democratic norms.
What did Trump and his flock do in response to America perpetually trying to compromise with them — pundits in denial, opposition complicit, majority silent? They escalated. They escalated from rhetorical hate to concentration camps to kids in cages in them to hated minorities hunted in the street to Gestapos beating and disappearing those who finally protested all this.
Compromise breeds escalation. That is how America got to a fascist coup: five solid years of compromise with fascists, until they escalated to the point of violently storming the Capitol and taking selfies, because they thought they could get away with it.
So there is a social message of all this violence, too. It’s hidden — maybe barely hidden — but I feel as if many Americans are still missing it. It’s this. “We can do something this awful, and mostly get away with it. That is how much we can corrode your norms and values. We can do the very worst things imaginable in this society, and not receive nearly the punishment we deserve. That is how badly we have weakened you.” Do you se the message? It’s always the same: the message of a bully, a thug, a mobster. It’s about instilling fear.
It’s about terror.
The social message of all this violence is to terrorize. “We can get away with it” is successful terrorism. It’s inherently scary to think that someone can do awful things, and not get the punishment that they deserve. What punishment is that, by the way? Well, it’s what society’s already agreed on, at least. A violent coup at the Capitol, for instance, is hardly trespassing or mischief or even criminal damage. It’s sedition and treason.
The social message of the violence is to terrorize. It’s to say: “We will get away with it, on some level, and so you should be scared of us, of our power, because those who can get away with it will keep on doing it again and again, escalating it.”
To not do justice to terrorists is to let the terrorists win.
That lesson goes both ways, by the way. When America tried Arab terrorists in secret courts, that wasn’t really justice, either — and so America never healed from those wounds. It might never heal from these wounds either, the wounds of coup and sedition and treason, if justice is never done for them, too.
That is becausejustice is the only healing. Injustice is injury. Injustice to the rest of us — those fascists being charged just with trespassing and mischief, LOL — is injury to all of us, to our democracy, to our civilised values, to our efforts to vote, to our peacefulness. It’s not a joke. It is a lasting and serious harm. And to “heal” that harm isn’t done by — as Biden and Kamala seem to be suggesting — going easy on the fascists, trying to forget. Healing is accomplished through justice.
Think about that in your own life. How “healed” do you feel from relationships in which you were victimised and abused and no justice was ever done? Not much, probably.
That’s the cultural point of all this violence. It’s to say: “We’re never going to let you heal. Every time you make progress, we’re going to be there, causing you harm, inflicting grave injury on you, doing violence to you. It’s us or you. You will never heal so long as we are around. We will keep on opening up those old wounds, and they will bleed rawer and redder.”
The cultural point of all this violence is to make — to keep — Americans victims. To make them feel fatalistic, powerless, hopeless. To glumly resign themselves to the fact that justice isn’t done. But people like that are what abusers want to create — victims. People who never have a happy, confident, beautiful sense of their own power, efficacy, purpose, destiny, truth.
The cultural point of the coup is to rub Americans noses in their powerlessness all over again so that they don’t get any ideas, which is what they might have got after the election. Ideas about their own power and efficacy and might of collective action. About what society and and should be, a peaceful and civilised and decent place. It is to triumph again in the way of creating a new example to remind Americans about their own powerlessness with — “they got away with it! And there was nothing we could do!!” — and thus create, all over again, the fatalistic, apathetic, resigned American that the world is so accustomed to.
That is why it’s so, so important that justice be done. Fully. The way it should be. They weren’t rioters, they were fascists, and that wasn’t an insurrection, that was a coup. And it should be punished and treated as such. For the three reasons I’ve outlined above. Let me repeat them and simplify them.
One: you can’t compromise with fascists because they are totalitarians to begin with. They only believe in a violent, hateful, ignorant, binary worldview, and so any compromise is a lie, a trick, a strategy, doomed to fail.
Two. You shouldn’t compromise with fascists and terrorists because it creates a norm with a very special name all its own: appeasement. And there is no road to ruin swifter and surer than appeasement — just ask history, or America 2016–2020, which appeased its way, one weary, surrendering step at a time, from rhetorical hate and scapegoating to concentration camps to kids in cages to Gestapos beating moms in the streets, all the way to a violent coup at the Capitol. That’s not some kind of coincidence — it’s stark proof of an old, old truth. The only way appeasement ever ends is with the fascists and terrorists winning.
Three. You give terrorists no mercy because when you do, they have succeeded at terrorising. They have demonstrated that they can get away with it, and that’s scary: it has chilling effects on society, it emboldens them, it keeps their movements alive, it lets them laugh at the wrist-slap, which is exactly what scares the sane and thoughtful person who opposes them.
When you give terrorists mercy and quarter, they have succeeded in their mission, which was to terrorize. They have scared you into treating them lightly, into submission, to relent. Why else would you go easy on them, unless you were terrorized?
This moment — right now — is a major, major test for America. A democracy that tolerates fascists and terrorists doesn’t often stay one for long.
The back of the fascist, terrorist movement Trumpism is now metamorphosing into — having failed at using political ends to achieve its means — must be broken. From top to bottom. Now. It must be given no quarter and shown no mercy. It should be left a thing as spineless as…the Dems, weak, cowering, afraid to step a millimetre outside its cage, unless it changes and renounces its way. Why? Don’t you know?
Perhaps I still have to remind you what we survivors of fascism say. Have been saying, since the day Trump began his inexorable rise to power, the very thing that the pundits and columnists and intellectuals attacked and mocked us for — and proved their own folly and hubris. It is the very, very first thing we will say, when it comes to matters of human affairs. It only takes two words to say, to teach this gravest and most fundamental of lessons about fascism, and those two words are why America should have a zero-tolerance policy for its fascists right now. What are those two words?